Do consultants need to build trust? Consultants solve problems. And as a consultant you probably do not have a tangible product to offer that delights your clients. You are likely selling a service that is invisible—but one that solves problems. And if you are doing your job as a consultant it is even likely that your client is getting credit for what you do. That’s a good thing; your clients are paying you for your expertise and should at least be rewarded for finding you to solve their problems.
But what does this have to do with trust?
Since you are not likely to receive organization-wide acclaim or recognition for your work, you need to build relationships that are built on a foundation of trust. These trusting relationships will lead to additional assignments, referrals to new clients, and repeat business. Clients are more likely to trust you with their problems if they trust you. You need to build trust with your clients.
Here are our top five surefire suggestions for building trust with every client.
- Keep Your Word. Of course that’s a logical place to start—do what you say you’re going to do, follow through with action, and keep your promises. A no-brainer, right? Well not necessarily … We all want to be helpful. And yet, there may be times when you just cannot do what you initially thought you could. It happens to all of us. If this occurs, don’t put off delivering the bad news; do it as soon as possible. Combine the bad news with what you’ve done already and what you plan to do to alleviate the situation. For example, say you promised to meet a deadline, but learned part of the solution involved a regulation of which you were not aware. In this case, tell your client that you will miss the deadline, that you’ve already started to fulfill the requirement, and that you will adjust the schedule by doing a couple of tasks in parallel. Of course you want to always keep your word if possible, but things happen. Do what’s right.
- Make Trust Your Signature. And not just with clients. Consider how you can build trust everywhere. Building trust should be a daily occurrence. Don’t expect immediate results but also, don’t do it as a gimmick. Do it because it’s the right thing to do. It builds collaboration and inclusiveness. Consider what you do every day to demonstrate honesty, reliability, consistency, integrity, and discretion.You can make trust your signature in all that you do and build a reputation of trustworthiness.
- Show Appreciation. A critical part of building a trusting relationship is to show your appreciation for your current clients, your past clients, and your potential clients. Yes, it takes effort to maintain a relationship with everyone, but there is a huge payoff. Stay in touch with past clients with a note to learn how they are doing. Stay in touch with current clients by checking in with them during your project. How about potential clients? Consultants who are just out to make money are not likely to maintain a relationship when it doesn’t appear that the client is buying. But that could be incorrect. Don’t be the consultant who disappears after a couple of no’s. If you think that you can help a potential client, stick to it and remember that the best salespeople spend a small percent of their time selling. They invest in learning about the client’s challenges, what problems need solving, and building the relationship.
- Go the Extra Mile. No, we’re not saying that you should allow scope creep to slip in, but everyone needs help now and again. It also does not mean taking responsibility for others’ problems, since that means you are taking control and preventing them from learning and developing. Instead, build trust by helping clients learn to trust and improve themselves without building dependency. It means being kind, providing a listening ear, or pointing them in the right direction. Others will notice that you offer help even when it provides no direct benefit to you. In turn, it will make them see you as more trustworthy.
- Admit Your Mistakes. Oh, this is hard, but it is crucial to building a trusting relationship. Don’t hide mistakes. Don’t make excuses. Don’t blame others. Accept and acknowledge mistakes to provide another opportunity to build trust. Demonstrating your vulnerability, admitting your mistakes, and sharing what you learn from them demonstrates that you are human, too. Building trust is impossible if others see inconsistencies in what you do and say.
Building trust isn’t easy. It takes time and mindful effort. And, sadly, it can be wiped out with one careless action—a white lie, an upcharge for travel expenses, or an exaggerated fact. Don’t do it. Building trust with your clients is all a part of your brand. It is your reputation.
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About the Authors
Elaine Biech and Halelly Azulay are successful consultants with a combined 50 years of experience. Both are leaders in the talent development field, volunteers for ATD, and mentors and coaches for new consultants. They are the creators of the online course: Building Your Successful Consulting Business. Elaine has published 85 books, including The New Business of Consulting and Halelly produces and hosts The TalentGrow Show podcast where she interviews legends such as Daniel Pink, Beverly Kaye, Dorie Clark, and others.
“If you are thinking about a change in your career and it means moving out on your own, trust these two experienced consultants to make it a bit easier. Building on their own decades of experience, they will guide you away from the traps that they experienced and point you in the right direction. You don’t have to go at it alone!”
Dr. Beverly Kaye, Founder, Career Systems Int’l and Bev Kaye & Co.
Co-author, Help Them Grow or Watch Them Go, Up is Not the Only Way
Recipient, Lifetime Contribution Award, ATD, & Thought Leadership Award, ISA